Implications of reduced search cost and free riding in e-commerce

Dazhong Wu, Gautam Ray, Xianjun Geng, Andrew Whinston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


This paper examines a market where the provision of information service is costly, but information service has the characteristics of a public good. Consumers, on the other hand, can use the information service to make an informed purchase decision and derive higher utility from consuming their ideal product. However, after receiving the information service from an information service provider, consumers can easily free ride by purchasing at low-price sellers who do not provide any information service. The paper examines the competition where sellers compete by providing information service for horizontally differentiated products and where technology reduces consumers' search cost. It is found that in this market a seller needs to establish itself as an information service provider in order to make positive profits, even when there is free riding. A seller, however, cannot make positive profits by free riding all the time. Also, with an increase in competition in the information service market, sellers have reduced incentives to provide information service. It is also found that in this market a decrease in search cost may increase or decrease social welfare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-262
Number of pages8
JournalMarketing Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Electronic commerce
  • Electronic markets
  • Free riding
  • Search cost


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